Mamela the Sesotho/Setswana word for listen excited me the first time I heard it. For me the word carries an energy that is at once commanding and inviting. The first time I got it was when my client wanted me to grasp something important to him. With urgency in his voice he said, “Ray, mamela man …” It got my full attention.
I am curious about the power of words and their meaning and the root of their origins. For example, Listening is a multi-layered act that needs more than just our ears. Other cultures point to deeper meanings. Ting, the Mandarin Chinese word for “listen” carries the symbols for Ear; Eye; Mind; Heart; King; and the number (1). This implies hearing not only the content but also the tone, inflection, the emotion present. It also requires listening with your eyes, the facial expression, the body language, seeing the ‘window of the soul’. Listen with your mind to understand, analyse, and broaden perspective. Listen with your heart to feel the emotion, empathise and respond. Therefore, listening with ting is the ultimate (King) and brings about a sense of oneness with both speaker and listener. “Oh, grandmother, what big ears you have!” “All the better to hear you with.” … Little Red Riding Hood. That famous line from the brothers Grimm fairy tale misleads. As we can see, the Ear isn’t the only organ involved in our listening.
So, when I listen, am I listening to reply or listening to ignite? Am I willing to let go of my own opinions, judgments and answers and be 100% available for my client? Ideally, coaches follow their client’s lead without knowing the right answer, giving solutions or telling the client what to do. The quality of everything we do is preceded by the quality of our thinking. In order for clients to think for themselves, they need a particular kind of attention. We recognise that the quality of the coach’s attention has an impact on the quality of their client’s thinking. Listening with palpable respect, interest and fascination encourages and elevates that thinking.
“In the quiet presence of your attention, respect and ease, important things can happen for your client. Fresh ideas can emerge; confusion can dissipate; painful feelings can subside; creativity can explode. It doesn’t matter if you already know what your client is about to say before they have said it – do not interrupt them or stop them. What matters is what happens for them because they say it.” Nancy Kline, author of Time to Think.
So, I am at my best as coach when I listen to ignite. Not advise, intervene, direct or suggest. It’s not that I don’t know what my client is thinking. I cannot know! When I know that I cannot know, I can be with my client differently. When I listen to ignite, I get better dimensions of feeling and better information. Attention of that quality is catalytic.
Ray Sher Executive Coach & Thinking Environment Consultant